Explore the captivating journey of Christine Po, the mastermind behind the compelling comic book series "Nemesis." From her teenage musings in a Chinese math class to her globetrotting adventures and artistic evolution, this article delves into Christine's creative process, influences, and the powerful themes of empowerment and self-discovery woven into her comics. Get ready to dive into the mind of a solo entrepreneur who's breaking boundaries in the world of comics and storytelling.
That's: Nemesis is the name of your comic book series. We know you've been thinking of this story since you were 15 in maths class. Can you tell us from the beginning, where did the idea come from?
1st, I fell in love with English and its culture around that age. I started listening to English music, learning English through it and watching MTV, looney Tunes and other channels playing American cartoons (Gargoyles, Where is Carmen Santiago, Dexter's Lab, PowerPuff Girls, Batman animated series, Cow and Chicken and such) and absorbing whatever limited information I can get through the narrow channels of Western culture, I was an oddball in school for not liking any Chinese pop stars or shows, but I loved it. And that was the base of creating a comic.
2nd, being a 15-year-old in China was a struggle, and I needed an outlet. I was thoroughly under the thumb of very stern teachers in school and very strict, hard-to-please parents at home (they considered painting the road to homelessness), misunderstood among schoolmates for doodling everywhere, carrying a big scrapbook and a glue stick everywhere making clipart, not doing very well in school except in English and Chinese literature, I was frustrated while going through hormonal changes, I wanted and needed to create an outlet for the frustration. Nemesis originally was a high-school girl going through hardships, she is a character who initially has no power, manipulated and led by the nose by others, not knowing where to go or telling between right and wrong. I think we shared that in common. And her slow and difficult road to being a superhero that adopted the image of the Greek goddess Nemesis is really a representation of my wish to greatness, having gone on a path few people were taking. But later on, when I redrew the comic in my 30s, Nemesis changed since my life experience became more enriched.
3rd I loved drawing, and I was reading a good amount of novels, and watching lots of Movies and I wanted to do more than just randomly doodling in class. I was also in a short story writing group here in Guangzhou, sharing writings with a few very talented writers from all over, and I wanted to combine my talents in one piece, the English language, drawing, story-telling and whatever I have learned from cinematography.
That's: You're world travelled. How do you find the differences in art styles between Mexico and China?
Mexico is definitely a country that loves art, and you can see graffiti everywhere, filled with strong personalities and possibilities. The biggest difference, from my humble opinion and experience, is FREEDOM to do art. I went there to live and work as a language teacher, but I was accepted very quickly as an artist in the city. I was selling acrylic paintings, doing murals, doing body painting gigs, and being invited to collective exhibitions with other local artists. Over there, talent speaks for you, not credentials, or where you have graduated or whether you're an art major. Most of the artists I met in Mexico didn't even graduate high school, but their art is amazing and quickly recognized and given due credit and attention. Art style-wise, Mexican art is, in general more colorful, festive, dramatic, and aggressive, while most of the art in China is more harmonious, detail-oriented, subtle, kawaii, or refined.
That's: What comics or stories did you use as inspiration to create Nemesis?
I love the character design and sense of movement from Jorge Jimenez from Spain, who is the main DC comic artist working on Batman. I love the simplicity and composition of Mike Mignola who created a lot of the HELLBOY comics. I also took inspiration from the high-contrast color scheme and cinematic shots from Sin City, Gothic art and art deco style. When it comes to captions, I absolutely adore the storytelling of Neil Gaiman's Sandman Series. I'm far away from achieving the level of all these great works of course, but they are definitely my inspirations while redrawing Nemesis.
That's: What about artists that you have tried to emulate? As above-mentioned? What are your thoughts on Chinese comics?
I'm honestly not familiar with them. They mostly seem similar to manga? I might be wrong, but western comics have always spoken to me more, so I can't really answer this question.
That's: There is an underlying element of female empowerment in the story. Is this something that you wanted to get across to readers?
Not consciously at first when I was 15, but as it turned out, I think maybe. During the next 15 years after I first created this character, I have been through a lot, and as I grew, Nemesis grew with me, naturally. I guess the gist of the comic is that no matter what hardship you went through and still need to go through to be a complete adult woman, you need to work towards gaining control of your life while staying on the right path of right and wrong, be just, be honest, be courageous to endure the difficulties in your path and come out of the other end a better person. Come to think of it, this applies to both men and women. It's just that since I am a woman, the character mirrors my gender, that's all.
That's: Despite being empowered by this strong female character, the comic itself is rather dark with themes of control, guttural hatred, death, sexual moments, and mental health. What is the thought process for this? Were you aiming for something honest and brutal?
I am honestly not a big fan of the term "strong female character", Nemesis is just a character. I do, however, want to tell a brutally honest story, inside a superhero story of course. From my point of view, I could only really speak as a woman since I am one, and I can't experience everything from a man's perspective or in his shoes. A woman's life itself is filled with all the elements you've mentioned: control (from self-control, parental to social, occupational, and if a woman didn't choose wisely, from her partner as well), hatred could stem from those control or even lack of control, death is something we all experience, the death of loved ones, and eventually, our own. Sexual moments, of course, women learn a lot from sexual interactions and experiences, either good or bad, that's a massive growth propeller in a woman's life, to either a free and happy path or a bitter and hateful one. Mental health as well, especially in this day and age, mental health is an under-discussed but ever-existing topic. I would like to tell a story of the growth of a human being, an underdog, who has to deal with all the elements against her, to be free of the shackles, learn from each element, and become a real superhero. I think it speaks to people.
That's: When can we expect the 2nd issue to come out?
I am currently working on the 2nd issue. I do have a full-time teaching job at a university in Guangzhou, and I am the drawer, inker, editor, letterer and writer of the comic, which means I am a one-woman army. It might take longer than a usual comic production, but it will be out, and once it is out, you'll be able to see it on all my social networks. I am currently still selling the paperback 1st issue in China nationwide. I will sign each copy before sending it out.
That's: The opening line of the comic is:m Your past doesn't define your future. Is this the theme of the comic and a subtle underlining point that will run through all the comics?
I'm not certain if this theme will run through all future comics, but for the first 2, definitely. Nemesis, in the first issue, is struggling to fill in the shoes of her persona, the Goddess of Vengeance and Retribution in Greek Mythology. These are big shoes to fill for a troubled young woman such as her, going through abuse, lost parents and mental issues. The point is her painful past won't stand in the way of her achieving greatness in her superhero future. I would like to use this story to tell people the same message. Don't dwell on your past. Use it positively to create a greater future.
That's: Tell us about your online presence. You are on Instagram, Patreon, and WeChat channels. Quite the solo entrepreneur?
I started on social media as a freelance artist and still am. On all my Western social media accounts you’ve mentioned, plus my Facebook page, I go with the same name: cosmos art xiaoying. But in the last year after I came back to China, I wanted to use my English teaching skills to help people here in China to speak better English as well, so I infused some weekly-updated spoken English teaching videos on my WeChat video account and Chinese Tiktok account under the name 闪颖Blinglish, along with my paintings and comics. In my mind, in this way, Nemesis can also be a fun English reading material for English learners. I learned English through entertainment (music, movies and books), so why not combine them? I don't yet consider myself an entrepreneur, just a creator of content to help, either to help people relax or help them learn. I guess it's the teacher in me making them. If they create an income, great. If not, I am doing what I love and what I think is right, I am happy.
That's: Over the past 20 years, there has been a massive rise in the popularity of superhero movies, and more recently, the anti-hero has become a more popular figure. Is the anti-hero something you are trying to capture with Nemesis?
In the first 2 issues and maybe 1 more, the villains in Nemesis are the same 2 characters who, despite being villainy, created the Nemesis persona. I won't go too much into the details of who they are. I hope people can read the comics and find out, but these two anti-heroes are interesting in that they imposed the main character Leya Baron into the Nemesis persona for committing crimes, but in the end, Nemesis takes over, continues using Nemesis but for doing good in this world. Technically speaking, these villains helped Nemesis become who she really were to become. The anti-hero makes the hero, this love-hate relationship is not uncommon in comics, say Batman and the Joker, they are sometimes inter-complementary. I also took inspiration from my own life, I have spent a good amount of time with the wrong kind of people who almost destroyed who I am, but the tenacity and wisdom gained from that experience helped me come out a better person, "your past doesn't define your future." In future issues, Nemesis will face other villains, each helping her strengthen her character in some way.
That's: My first thought when I read Nemesis was this is similar to a modern Elektra. Or a little like Black Widow?
Haha, good eye. I've always liked those two character designs. They look beautiful and sexy but fierce, they give out a lot of femininity, and their strength lies in their action when action is needed. I also love the black-and-red combination of color scheme, it has impact, and it’s dangerously sexy. Nemesis, as her name implies, is a Greek goddess, so her superhero character should look beautiful, and physically fit, with dark eyes and dark hair, feminine yet powerful and decisive.
That's: What are your thoughts on the portrayal of female empowerment in contemporary Hollywood films, such as Marvel movies and Disney remakes? Do you believe it's important for these themes to be subtly woven into the narrative rather than overtly imposed, and is this a consideration for your approach to storytelling in your comics?
This is a difficult question to answer if I don't want to offend. As I mentioned before, I am not a fan of the term "strong female character" since the "strong female characters" I have seen in recent Marvel movies and Disney remakes are quite one-dimensional, preachy and just simply uninteresting. I think as a woman, I want female characters to be all-round, interesting and realistic, meaning they should have defects, they should go through hardships, they should be imperfect and naive and childish at first and go through a realistic learning curve to complete their character curve and become better people in the end. No one, men included, is born perfect. If a main character is perfect and sassy throughout a movie, I would find it boring cause the character is not taking us on a ride. The story is complete from the get-go, then what's the point of the story?
There were many great female characters in the old movies, such as Princess Leia from the first 3 Star Wars, Leeloo from The 5th Element, Sarah Conor from Terminator, Mathilda from Leon the Professional, Trinity from the first 3 Matrix movies and so on. All these female characters are so memorable and impressive because of the difficult journeys they went through, they are just like real women going through the path of life, slowly becoming the great female characters they've become without stressing about "I'm perfect because I'm a woman" or punching down on men. Because in my opinion, we can't be perfect without being imperfect first and men and women help each other grow smarter, more mature and more sophisticated no matter if one is straight or not. The world is multi-faceted, so should the stories and characters be.
So it goes without saying that I hope to make Nemesis go through a logical and hard learning curve before becoming a real superhero. She needs to go through stuff, and she will need help from her romantic interests, friends, and even villains.